Trackhouse Motorplex

July 20, 2023

It was at the Bob Evan’s Restaurant in Huntersville, North Carolina back in 2009 when Trackhouse owner Justin Marks had an ambitious idea.

He wanted to create one of the best go-kart racing tracks in the United States in the center of the NASCAR industry.

He drew up his plans on a napkin and showed it to his friend and fellow racer, Michael McDowell, who was sitting across the table from Marks at the Bob Evans.

The design was based on the famous Kartdromo Parma circuit that was built in 1961 and served as the launching pad for such acclaimed drivers as Riccardo Patrese, Ayrton Senna, Alex Zanardi, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, and Kimi Raikkonen. 

The historic Kartdromo Parma track in Italy was destroyed and leveled in 2009 and a shopping center now exists in its place. However, the original cement curbing from Parma was saved just in time, shipped over from Italy, and now lives on in Victory Lane at a facility located in the rolling land just east of Mooresville, North Carolina.

That same year, Marks wanted to revive the Kartdromo Parma track with an updated flair. He first sketched the initial plans for a karting track on a napkin and showed it to McDowell, who would later win the 2021 Daytona 500.

From that initial idea, the karting facility was born and opened in 2012. It was originally known as GoPro Motorplex before it was rebranded earlier this year as Trackhouse Motorplex

“I approached that the same way I approached Trackhouse,” Marks explained. “There was something missing. There was an opportunity to do something that people wanted, what they were hungry for and didn’t have access to. It was my first foray into business ownership. It came out of conversation.

“We have this industry here that is concentrated in one market with all these racers, but there is not a place to race. It was recognizing an opportunity to do something that hasn’t been done yet. That kickstarted the way I think about the business, and I started looking for where these other opportunities were. 

“It certainly was the early work in paving the path to where we are today with Trackhouse.”

Earlier this year, Marks and Trackhouse strengthened the brand connection between the company and the karting facility when it became Trackhouse Motorplex.

“We’re trying to build a great sports and entertainment company that is routed in the excitement of motorsports,” Marks said. “Over time, we will continue to bring Trackhouse branded assets onto the platform. It allows us to be valuable to our partners to have a wide range of properties and opportunities for partners to activate and promote. 

“We want to be something that moves the needle in this sport and is a great home for lots of companies to invest in. Bringing the Motorplex onto the Trackhouse brand platform is an extension of that.

“We’ve been open for over 10 years. We are at the point now where we’ve had young kids that have come through the track early on in our life span there, that have gone on to race in the Indianapolis 500, IndyCar, and win Cup races and even in Formula One.

“It’s proof of concept. It’s proof that we had the right idea when we built that thing years ago and it continues to be a great asset to the community and the industry.”

Karting is how 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner and two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power began his career in Australia. It’s something he continues to utilize to sharpen his racing skills as one of the greatest INDYCAR drivers of his era.

He is one of many drivers who regularly uses Trackhouse Motorplex to keep his skills sharp, during the offseason and the offseason. He has his own garage area at Trackhouse Motorplex where he keeps his high-powered karts.

“I believe that karting is one of the most important developmental pathways to racing,” Power said. “It’s a grassroots beginning that I was introduced to at the age of six and it started my love for the sport of auto racing. To this day, I still use karting as a training tool.

“My goal is to help kids progress through the top levels of the motorsport ladder and the first step is through karting.”

In 14 years, Trackhouse Motorplex, located outside of “Race City, USA” – Mooresville, North Carolina -- has become one of the top karting facilities in the United States. Many of the drivers competing in NASCAR and INDYCAR have experience at the 0.7-mile, 11-turn karting facility that is open seven days a week, year-round.

Three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin was the first NASCAR driver to buy a garage at GoPro and field a karting team. He hired a young kid to build his karts for him named Santino Ferrucci, who would go on to become the 2019 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year after finishing seventh. Ferrucci finished fourth in the Indy 500 in 2020 and third in the 107th Indianapolis 500 this year for AJ Foyt Racing.

“I actually showed up with Denny because I knew Denny from being in the Cup garage and I helped him get set up there at GoPro,” Ferrucci recalled. “I actually built all of Denny’s go-karts when I was 11 or 12. 

“I built five of his karts and then I rebuilt one of my own back in 2012. I forget how the conversation came about and I remember Denny talking about it at the race about this big new thing being built and Kyle Larson and Scott Speed and Max Papis were getting involved and he wanted to do it. Denny doesn’t do anything lightly. He bought two garages, blew a hole between the walls, and made one really big garage.”

Two of the top three finishers in this year Indianapolis 500 have karting experience at Trackhouse Motorplex including the winner, Josef Newgarden of Team Penske.

Newgarden developed his racing skills as a youngster competing at the New Castle Motorsports Park karting facility in New Castle, Indiana.

Team Penske’s massive racing facility is located three miles from Trackhouse Motorplex, and many of the drivers and crewmembers has experience on the karting course.

“I think those facilities are really important,” Newgarden said. “It reminds me of New Castle Motorsports Park, which is where I started racing. Trackhouse is a facility really similar to what New Castle had built in 2003. 

“You didn’t have facilities that had full garages and setups where you could leave everything and was cost effective, and a lot of good people came to one facility.

“Trackhouse is important. We have to have that pipeline of young people and young families and young drivers that want to pursue racing. They have to have an avenue to do that.”

Other top current and former NASCAR drivers who have had extensive karting experience include two-time Brickyard 400 winner Tony Stewart, Hamlin, Danica Patrick, former Brickyard 400 winner Ricky Rudd, Brian Vickers, former Brickyard winner Jamie McMurray, Kurt Busch, Tyler Reddick, Ty Gibbs, Kyle Larson, Chase Briscoe, 2022 Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric, three-time Brickyard 400 winner Kevin Harvick, and his son, Keelan, AJ Allmendinger and Kyle Busch’s son, Braxton, just to name a few.

IndyCar drivers that have raced there include all three drivers at nearby Team Penske, Newgarden, Power, and New Zealand’s Scott McLaughlin.

“I have been at Trackhouse in the later years, and you have stars that are out there – current stars and future stars – coexisting and working together,” Newgarden said. “It’s fun to see those facilities.

“Justin Marks has a very impressive portfolio. He has done super well and is an impressive guy. He is good for the sport. We need more leaders, more team owners, like Justin. I’m super impressed with what he has done from afar and know him pretty well. 

“Good, eager, talented team owners like Justin Marks will always be welcomed at Indianapolis.”

Billy Vincent is the Director of Competition at Arrow McLaren and calls the race strategy for driver Felix Rosenqvist in the NTT IndyCar Series. 

Vincent also has an extensive karting operation, working with a team of young drivers who are gaining experience hoping to one day climb the ladder of racing. He owns the MPG Motorsports karting team along with Chase Jones.

“What makes it so good is Justin and his guys put a lot into it, they did all their research, chose the pavement correctly and the layout is really good,” Vincent said. “The facility is amazing.

“What makes that place so good is the location and the level of talent that is in that area. Club racing karting there is almost like a National. All of the young people in that area trying to make it in racing, it’s pretty neat.

“It’s an inviting facility.”

Trackhouse Motorsports has a karting shop that sells all of the equipment needed to compete in high-speed karting.

“Justin thinks outside of the box, isn’t afraid to break the norm and is always looking ahead at new ideas and new ways of doing things,” Vincent said. “There was no go-kart track in that area. Mooresville, North Carolina is like Indianapolis – so many teams are based there. It was super important to recognize that.

“When the pros and stars start turning up, everybody else starts to show up.

“For a driver like Will Power to go out and pound laps, it’s the perfect treadmill for a race car driver. The reaction times and everything in karting is going to be quicker reactions and smaller inputs faster than an Indy car, so it keeps you sharp. You are putting your mind and body through those motions.”

The level has become so high in karting as the kids of today could be the stars of the future. 

They learn their skills at Trackhouse Motorplex and may one day win the Daytona 500 or the Indianapolis 500.

“I’ve always loved karting,” Marks said. “To me, it’s like high school football. It’s the purest expression of the sport. Everybody, no matter how far they have made it up the ladder in racing, still always gets excited about racing karts. Whether you have won the Daytona 500 or just race rental karts as a hobby, everyone has the same reaction; they love karting. 

“It’s a fantastic sport.” 

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